Well-deserved recognition

NISKU, Alta. – With the RPMs blasted to 2,300 right from the startline, it’s no wonder the front wheels of the Smokin’ Gun were carried off the track for more than 50 feet during its world record run Aug. 6.

For 15 years, Gord Cooper has been racing the Smokin’ Gun, initially as a ‘modest’ 18-second quarter-mile vehicle when he purchased the truck in 2001 and brought it to B.C. for its first shot at glory.

But at the onset, the Smokin’ Gun didn’t quite feel at home on the racetrack. In fact, Cooper had bought the vehicle to be a unique ‘limo’ for his younger son’s high school graduation.

“I had done something different for each of my kids,” Cooper said, explaining how he had taken his older son to his graduation in his vintage ’57 Kenworth and daughter in a Hummer.

“The Smokin’ Gun ended up as a show vehicle, it wasn’t a race vehicle at the time,” Cooper said. “It had a hydraulic opening hood and a hydraulic raising body. I purchased it from Tristan Jackson, a local friend (from Strathmore).”

Cooper said he has always enjoyed going to truck shows with his collection of eclectic trucks, and many had commented on how special the Smokin’ Gun was, which originally had a 380 Cat engine, a 15-speed transmission with a single axle.

It is also a ‘Canadian Kenworth’, as it was built in the Vancouver area in 1968.

In its working life, the Smokin’ Gun was a tandem water truck, which Cooper said Jackson had rebuilt, bringing something unique to the vehicle, transforming it into a show vehicle.

The truck now sports an 8v92 Detroit, a Detroit Diesel Series 92, two-stroke cycle, V-block diesel engine, which was built by Wayne and John Talkington of TNT Racing in Fontana, Calif. in 2006.

“I noticed that their technology got much better there,” Cooper said, adding the Wayne is the operator of the Lucas Oil truck for the Lucas Oil Drag Truck Team. “When I was racing against them six to seven years ago, their engine looked really clean on the track.

“I watch how other guys are doing when I race against them. The Detroit that I had in (the Smokin’ Gun), I was running some marine technology from Oregon and was showing an awful lot of diesel smoke.”

Back then, Cooper was running the Smokin’ Gun in the 13-second time bracket, but eventually got down into the 12-second range.

“It takes a lot to get into the 12-second bracket,” Cooper said. “It’s really a development and you have to learn how to put everything together properly with a weight balance and everything else.”

Despite not having to do any work on the Smokin’ Gun for the last four years, Cooper has done a lot to the truck, including shortening it by 50 inches, moving the radiator from in front to behind the cab, custom making the disc brakes and installing twin turbo chargers.

And now, all that hard work has paid off, with the world record in his hands.

Cooper was going up against a Freightliner truck in the quarter-mile, straight-line race, and said the duel was really a comparison between what the Smokin’ Gun was originally and what it is now, as the Freightliner was more of a show vehicle than anything else.

“I was racing against the clock,” Cooper said. “I was in it to set a new record.”

The Smokin’ Gun broke the National Hot Rod Diesel Association (NHRDA) Hot Rod Semi World Record set by Wayne in the Lucas Oil truck, which had been held all summer at 11.75, with a time of 11.403 seconds at a speed of 119.17 mph.

“That’s a pretty tough one to match,” Cooper said of the 11.40 mark. “Wayne, when he’s ready to push his engine further, he could very well do something with my 11.40, and I think I can push that 11.40 a little further as well.”

Cooper said this is the first year there has been a recognized NHRDA Hot Rod Semi class, with last year offering only a demo class.

“I figured I had the record then,” Cooper said of 2015, “because I ran an 11.49, for the very first time under eleven-and-a-half seconds, and it wasn’t recognized because it was an exhibition class last year.”

Cooper races up to six times each summer, and was consistently running around 11.5 seconds last year before setting the record this August at Castrol Raceway in Nisku, Alta.

He had even gone up against a Lamborghini during an air show, which Cooper said he proceeded to ‘embarrass the hell out of.’

“The fella was fairly gracious about it,” he said, “but he couldn’t believe that I had blown his doors off over the half-mile airport course. I had a hard time getting my helmet off; it was stuck on there for a while with my head getting so damn big.”

Cooper and the Smokin’ Gun will be heading down to Ennis, Texas for the NHRDA World Finals Sept. 30 to Oct. 1. Our press deadline fell prior to the results of the race.

“I wasn’t going to go until I could prove that I had the record, and I think I’ve done that,” Cooper said. “My expectations are to go down and have a hell of a good weekend and have fun.”

From a business standpoint, Cooper said the past year-plus has been difficult with Alberta’s flailing economy, and it has been a challenge to keep his specialized hauling business afloat.

He has been running O.C.E.A.N. Hauling and Hotshot out of Calgary since 1981, providing transportation of oversized, heavy and delicate loads in Western Canada.

But regardless, Cooper and his wife plan to take a few days off for the championships in Texas and have some fun ‘rolling a little bit of coal’ on the racetrack and hopefully get some extra reputation for the Smokin’ Gun south of the border.

Cooper said much of the success the Smokin’ Gun has achieved is thanks to his co-sponsors – BD Diesel Performance, Wajax Power Systems, Capstan Hauling, West Country Supervision, Truck Spa, Bandag and Greatwest Kenworth.

“The recognized world record is cool,” Cooper said, “but that and two bucks will buy me a Tim Hortons’ coffee.”

The Smokin’ Gun broke the National Hot Rod Diesel Association (NHRDA) Hot Rod Semi World Record with a time of 11.403 seconds at a speed of 119.17 mph. Photo courtesy of NHRDA.
The Smokin’ Gun broke the National Hot Rod Diesel Association (NHRDA) Hot Rod Semi World Record with a time of 11.403 seconds at a speed of 119.17 mph. Photo courtesy of NHRDA.

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A university graduate with a degree in English, I have worked in the media and trucking industries as a writer, editor, and now as western bureau chief of Today's Trucking and TruckNews.com. I have several years of management experience in journalism, as well as hospitality, but am first and foremost a writer, both professionally and in my personal life, having completed two fiction novels.

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